"Hey!" Sirius sat up on the grass and waved energetically at Harry. "Neville, old buddy, old pal, where've you been?"
Remus abandoned his defence textbook to peer concernedly at Harry. "You look terrible. Are you alright?"
"I suppose. Look, guys," Harry hesitated. How to explain? "I have to… leave."
"Leave?" James too heaved himself into a sitting position.
"Yeah," Harry rubbed a hand tiredly over his face. It felt as if he hadn't slept in weeks.
"I just… Yeah."
Remus put an arm around Harry's shoulders. "I know it must be difficult, with Severus gone," he said quietly. "But you can't run away from this, Neville."
"It's not that," Harry replied. It is, it is… "I've been meaning to leave for a while now. It just took longer than I thought."
Remus patted him once on the back and then moved away. Standing, James held out his hand formally, just like their first meeting on the train.
"I take it this is goodbye then," he said. Harry took his hand, grateful that someone had said it. "Good luck, Neville. I hope you're happy, wherever you're going. I'm just sorry we weren't friends sooner."
Harry smiled. "I think we were."
He said his goodbyes to Remus and Peter, who had stayed sitting in the shadows by the trees. Sirius shuffled awkwardly through his speech on friends-forever, and we'll-meet-again-someday. Harry had to smile.
Another group of friends lost. But hopefully not for long. As he walked away, he turned back with a sudden thought.
"Just marry Lily, alright. It's important."
James looked shocked for a minute, then grinned and nodded. Harry left them there, a happy group that could retain their innocence for just a little longer, now. It was time to go home.
The Slytherin dorms were uncharacteristically quiet as Harry gathered the few things he wanted to take home. Scrabbling around in the bottom of his trunk, he was startled by a sudden pop.
"Mr. Potter, sir?"
The little green creature bounced nervously on it’s heels.
"I is Binly, sir. I is helping Mrs. Snape go through her son's things, sir."
Harry's throat went tight at this, and his eyes glistened with unshed tears.
"We founds this, sir."
The diminutive elf held out a small, round parcel. Wrapped in shimmering black paper with a thin silver ribbon, the box was the epitome of Severus' possessions. Minimalist and… well, black. The small tag revealed 'Happy Birthday, Neville' scrawled in familiar spiky letters.
Harry looked back towards the elf. "Thank you," he said. "I'll open it later." Alone.
The elf nodded. "Yes, Mr. Potter." He disappeared with an ear-splitting crack.
Harry tugged gently on the ribbon holding together the paper. It unravelled easily and curled on the floor, hissing like a serpent. Harry smiled. There was house pride in every inch of this gift, obviously. The ribbon wriggled away.
The unfolded paper yielded a round box, again black, with gold edging. Harry opened it and smiled.
A chain. Silver, it's clasp formed from the twined tails of two delicately detailed snakes. The eyes of one glowed with green gems and the eyes of the other shone black. A small piece of paper fluttered out the lid.
Now we'll always be together.
Harry shut the box.
Harry decided to use the chain. He knew the potion would be perfect, Severus made it after all and so could cause no harm to his gift. It seemed somehow fitting that the two things given to him by Severus were the things to bring him home. That his return was exclusively Severus' doing.
So he poured the potion carefully over the chain, watching as the liquid was slowly absorbed into the shining silver. He slipped the bag with his few memories contained inside over his head, and waited.
As the Marauders entered the castle again, and Fawkes swooped from his tower window to soar over the battlements, Neville Potter flickered and disappeared.